Euro 2016 - Leon Wobschall: Wales' remarkable journey can last up until the last kick in Paris
FIRST of all, a confession.
It was just over three weeks ago in the quaint Colne Valley town of Marsden during a ‘works do’ ,sampling the delights of the Rail Ale Trail (recommended), that The Yorkshire Post’s chief football writer Richard Sutcliffe mentioned to me that Wales had just scored in their Euro 2016 opener.
My reaction was one of uninterest, which rather suggested that I did not think that Wales’s party would last long across the Channel. It turned out I was rather passé. How wrong can you be.
The principality’s progress to the last four has owed little to luck, but everything to esprit de corps, hunger, pride and, most importantly of all, talent.
And who is to say it will not end in a final appearance at the Stade de France on Sunday? They are riding a wave as lengthy as the Gower peninsula.
Wales’s performance in comprehensively beating Belgium 3-1 in Lille on Friday – the side ranked second in the world by FIFA – was arguably the greatest one-off international result recorded by a home nation at a major tournament.
In terms of alternatives, what is there? Maybe 10-man Northern Ireland beating Spain in their own backyard in Valencia at the 1982 World Cup.
The euphoria in Wales was manifest after Friday’s stunning events. As was the respect back across the Severn Bridge, where legions of Three Lions supporters marvelled at how rich the Welsh nation were in footballing terms in comparison to a destitute, technically and tactically bankrupt England team.
They are everything that England are not, with celebrity Danny Baker’s rant on Twitter, which called for England’s criminally underachieving players to pull Wales’s open-top bus around the streets upon their return to these isles being fervently supported by many fans. If only.
Wales have already made history by reaching the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time – but woe betide anyone who thinks Chris Coleman and his charges feel that their work is done. Far from it.
As Coleman has clearly stated: “The journey does not end here.”
If Greece and Denmark can reach a European Championship final, so can Wales, with their game against Portugal tomorrow night in Lyon looking every bit a winnable one, even accounting for the absence through suspension of Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies.
Momentum, as the Danes and the Greeks will venture from their own experiences, can be everything and the Welsh have it in abundance.
They also possess a poster boy for the tournament in Gareth Bale, with his personal duel against Real Madrid team-mate Cristano Ronaldo being worth the admission money alone in the Rhone.
Two of the defenders of the tournament so far in redoubtable captain Ashley Williams and ex-Hull City centre-back James Chester have also been adorned in Welsh red, while an unlikely hero in Hal-Robson Kanu has catapulted himself to prominence as a tournament star in the same way as Czech Republic’s Karel Poborsky did in Euro’ 96 in England.
In fact, what is not to like about Wales?
Even their English-born players sing the Welsh national anthem Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.
Whatever transpires for those gallant Welsh heroes, the legacy from their epic adventure in France will be a considerable one and will leave an indelible mark on a country’s culture. So much so that football, just maybe, has a realistic chance of sharing the sporting hegemony with rugby union in Wales for the first time and perhaps, whisper it, even surpassing it given time. A prospect that would have been deemed unthinkable not so long back.
Diehard rugby fans from the Valleys to Snowdonia have been enchanted by the rise of the Welsh footballing dragon.
Shops have seen an 800 per cent sales increase of Wales flags, while fan zones in Cardiff, Newport, Anglesey and Pontypridd have sold out and football clubs have been deluged with enquiries from parents.
Books will be written, songs composed and films made about a mad summer in France, with Wales’ footballing reawakening akin to events in the late Eighties across the Irish Sea, when Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland team came to prominence in Euro ‘88 and sustained their rise with further memorable campaigns arriving at Italia ’90 and at the 1994 World Cup in the USA.
Expect Wales to do something similar.